A judge released actress Felicity Huffman on $250,000 bail but restricted her travel to the continental U.S. after the star was one of 50 people charged in the largest-ever college admissions conspiracy prosecuted by the Justice Department.
Huffman appeared in federal court Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles following a morning arrest. Husband William H. Macy attended his wife’s initial court appearance. He has not been charged in the scandal and authorities have not said why.
Federal prosecutors charged 33 affluent parents, including CEOs and actress Lori Loughlin, nine college athletics coaches and others in the sweeping bribery case to enter elite universities and colleges. The elaborate conspiracy involved cheating on the SAT and ACT and parents paying coaches “enormous sums” to get their children into schools by fabricating their athletic credentials.
Loughlin is expected to appear in court Wednesday. After that, legal proceedings will move to Boston, Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the United States Attorney’s Office tells USA TODAY. Huffman was one of about a dozen people taken into custody Tuesday.
Late Tuesday, roughly 50 reporters and photographers waited for defendants to exit the courthouse as skies darkened. At one point, Huffman was seen walking toward the main exit, but facing a rush of videographers, she turned around and did not exit through the doors.
Huffman, best known for her role on TV’s “Desperate Housewives,” is accused of paying $15,000 to a made-up charitable organization that then helped her daughter cheat on the SATs. Huffman also discussed the scheme in a recorded phone call with a cooperating witness, according to the investigation.
Loughlin, who starred in the 1990s sitcom “Full House,” is facing the same felonycharges — conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Prosecutors say Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, another defendant, paid bribes of $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as crew team recruits at the University of Southern California even though neither participated in the sport.
As part of the nationwide conspiracy, coaches agreed to pretend that the children of parents who paid bribes were highly recruited athletes when they didn’t even compete in that particular sport, prosecutors said.
The schools, including Yale, Georgetown and Stanford universities, the University of Southern California, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Texas and Wake Forest University, are not targets of the sweeping investigation, prosecutors said. And no students were charged. Authorities said in many cases the teenagers were not aware of the fraud.
Others charged included three people who organized the scams, two ACT and SAT exam administrators, one exam proctor, and one college administrator. Among the parents were Gordon Caplan of Greenwich, Connecticut, a co-chairman of an international law firm based in New York; Jane Buckingham, CEO of a boutique marketing company in Los Angeles; Gregory Abbott of New York, founder and chairman of a packaging company; and Manuel Henriquez, CEO of a finance company based in Palo Alto, California.
“This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud,” said Andrew Lelling, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, which is leading the prosecution. “There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy, and I will add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.”
Four people arrested in New York City in the college admissions prosecution have each been released on $500,000 bail after brief appearances in Manhattan federal court. Lawyers for Abbott, Caplan, and Elizabeth and Manuel Henriquez declined to comment after their clients appeared before a magistrate judge to face charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
A prosecutor had sought $1 million bail against Abbott, a New York founder of a food and beverage packaging company, claiming he was a risk to flee.
Macy, who is married to Huffman, was not among those charged. But an affidavit says Huffman’s “spouse” participated in conversations at their Los Angeles home with a confidential witness about the scheme.
The University of Southern California responded to the charges by firing senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and legendary water polo coach Jovan Vavic, a 16-time national champion who has led the team since 1995. Both were charged in the scheme. The school also opened an internal investigation and a review of its admissions process.
Wake Forest University says it has suspended its head volleyball coach Bill Ferguson amid the investigation. Ferguson has been placed on administrative leave after being accused of accepting $100,000 to recruit a student who had been on the North Carolina school’s wait list.
“For every student admitted through fraud, an honest genuinely talented student was rejected,” Lelling said.
At the center of the case, according to federal prosecutors, was an admissions consultant named William “Rick” Singer, who pleaded guilty Tuesday in a Boston federal court to conspiracy charges of racketeering, money laundering, defrauding the United States and obstruction of justice.
Prosecutors say Singer operated a sham college counseling group called “The Key,” based in Newport Beach, California, which he used to accept more than $25 million in payments masked as “charitable contributions” from parents from 2011 through Feb. 2019. He’s accused of keeping some of the money for himself and funneling millions to coaches and others to guarantee admission to top schools.
Source: Joey Garrison and Maria Puente, USA TODAY
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